Hospitality technology systems are expensive investments, especially when testing and training efforts pile up. If you want to be successful, choose sound partners and thorough beta testing before full implementation.
Are we a technology company or a hospitality organization?
For those of us responsible for assessing, acquiring and implementing complex and expensive technology systems, who can really say that thought hasn’t crossed her or his mind at one time or other?
No doubt, a number of internal and external factors are driving technology’s role in hospitality. These include brand-developed systems and the basic reality that it literally would be impossible these days to take reservations, manage the physical plant or conduct security operations without a strong dose of technology. In addition to the areas just mentioned, technology systems have permeated recruiting, training and human resources, operational systems, and accounting and overall administration.
Moreover, a real thrust in recent years has been to bring technology systems to the frontline staff, from front desk or sales and marketing to housekeeping and maintenance. Here, these systems help our people do their jobs more efficiently, while management has access to analyses that can help in making assignments, track task status in real time or evaluate performance. The next area where technology is growing is in our interaction with guests to improve the total hospitality experience. The digital key and texting a guest before arrival are just the beginning.
And, if we are being honest with ourselves, we are not immune from being afraid of not grabbing a front-row seat on the business world’s technology bandwagon. If another organization has a certain technology or system, shouldn’t we? What about blockchain, artificial intelligence or machine learning? No one wants to be late to the party. The Information Age is quickly morphing into the Intelligence one.
Getting it right is not easy
Regardless, our increasing reliance on technology brings up two key issues. The first involves how to identify and choose the best technology partners for our organizations; the second is in knowing how to strike the right balance between system design and system testing prior to full implementation.
From our standpoint, we want that technology vendor to become a long-term strategic partner. It can be extremely expensive and tiring to make a switch or add yet another technology vendor to our third-party roster, not to mention the care that must be given to secure the confidential and competitive information that we share with any technology vendor. Thus, key selection factors include core technical competence, data security and compatible business values. A smaller firm that has the potential to grow in tandem with us might turn out to be the best fit.
Next, there is a dangerous tendency to keep systems under development behind the curtain until everything is “perfect.” These blinders might keep us from gaining valuable practical input from users—in other words, does this system really help us in the intended ways? Also, when systems dwell in development for too long, we often find that they have already been superseded in the marketplace.
Strong beta testing can remedy these issues. Let the people who will use the technology daily—the ones who you want to make more productive—try it out and listen closely to their feedback. Issues can be discovered earlier and are less costly to fix, which enhances eventual user acceptance. A system can look great on the drawing board, but can we execute it?
This second point relates to whether we should adopt vendor-provided systems or insist on proprietary technology solutions. It will become increasingly important to understand the existing skills that potential staff have with any given advanced technology systems, just as we pay attention to whether someone knows a given office server software or accounting package. In particular, we are finding that many people out in the field already know and have allegiance to specific technology systems.
As a result, proprietary systems might not always be the best choice. It will depend on the scale involved and the desired functions. Exclusivity might not be as crucial as quality of execution. If we give our people the right tools, training and encouragement, we have less concern about whether we have made the right purchasing decisions, and guest satisfaction will most likely take care of itself.
At the end of the day, when it comes to advanced technologies, let’s ensure that the tail does not wag the dog.
Kerry Ranson, a 21-year veteran of the hospitality industry, is chief development officer at HP Hotels.
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